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🎬 “Would that it were so simple.”

🎬 “Would that it were so simple.”
By Eric Johnson • Issue #82 • View online
Hey all — I’m bringing back an old feature of this newsletter, with a twist. As most of you know, I used to rank every new movie I had seen in a year (here’s 2019’s final list) from best to worst, and I stopped trying once it became clear that new movies were not going to be a thing in theaters for a while.
Starting this week, I’m going to bring the list back, except it won’t just be new movies: I’ll rank every single movie I’ve seen in 2020, new or old. Take a look at the first stab at this below and let me know what you think!

↖️ North by Northwest
North by Northwest is the first Alfred Hitchcock film I ever saw, and I still love it to this day.
As the cynical New York ad man Roger Thornhill, Cary Grant is maybe the strongest of Hitchcock’s “ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances” protagonists because he strides through the movie with a caustic attitude that undermines his credibility with friends and angers the villains who believe him to be a superspy.
The whole cast is perfect, the script is funny and exciting, and the Bernard Herrmann score is famous for good reason. If you’ve never seen it, I’d recommend watching it without looking up more details or watching the (super-spoilery) trailer below; North by Northwest set the standard for all action movies to follow and it has aged surprisingly well by that metric. Perhaps that’s because so few movies have surpassed it.
North By Northwest - Trailer
North By Northwest - Trailer
I watched North by Northwest on Blu-Ray, but it’s currently streaming on HBO Max.
🃏 Bamboozled
Spike Lee’s satirical 2000 movie Bamboozled feels more relevant today than it might have 20 years ago, as TV shows ranging from 30 Rock to Mad Men are hastily reckoning with their use of blackface as an ironic punchline.
While scrubbing evidence of your favorite actors in blackface may protect them, it does little to address the racist history of minstrel shows, and Lee’s film forces the audience to confront that degradation. It repeatedly reminds us that this was as mainstream a form of entertainment for several decades as superhero movies are today, and asks whether we had really improved as a society.
Although I admire the “you can’t look away” satirical side of the story, the story is shaggy and most of the characters (with the exception of Damon Wayans’ protagonist) are under-defined, in a film that needs specific personalities to relate to. Without them, the casual viewer will have a harder time believing the world of the movie and intuiting that it is an extension of our own.
I’m also conflicted about the fact that most of the film was shot on consumer-grade digital camcorders — a radical decision for the time that kept costs down, but the cheap video aesthetic hasn’t aged well.
Spike Lee's Bamboozled Trailer
Spike Lee's Bamboozled Trailer
I watched Bamboozled on Blu-Ray; it’s not currently streaming or available anywhere to rent/buy digitally.
👓 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy when it came to theaters in 2011, and then promptly forgot almost everything that happened.
Now, after a second viewing, I see why: This is a dense movie that deals almost exclusively in subtle turns rather than big moments, which is both good and bad.
The visuals of the film are as beautiful as “the bleakest side of the Cold War” can get, and Gary Oldman is excellent as George Smiley, imbuing the character with the pain and weight of a mostly-unseen history.
On the other side, many of the key relationships among Smiley, Control, and the other spies in “The Circus” get short shrift, to the point that the reveal of who has been betraying his peers falls a bit flat. It’s a shame this same cast — which includes Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, and John Hurt — didn’t adapt the other novels by John Le Carré, to fill out this world, as this movie on its own doesn’t quite do it for me.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Official US Trailer
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Official US Trailer
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is currently streaming on Netflix and DirecTV.
☠️ Dark Waters
Dark Waters is a very compelling legal drama based on the true story of Rob Billot, a corporate defense attorney who became a massive pain for the American chemical company DuPont.
I really loved the lead performance from Mark Ruffalo, who is far more understated here than he was in a similar truth-seeking role in Spotlight. Here, as then, he gets a big “they knew” scene — a couple of them, in fact — but the impact is realer because DuPont’s evil deeds (enabled and covered up by lawyers like Billot’s colleagues) are so banal.
There is a risk with movies like this of playing up the victories and downplaying the bigger picture, but I was weirdly pleased by how downbeat the film is — it acknowledges all the ways in which the system makes it impossible for little guy to get justice, even when you have someone like Billot on your side.
DARK WATERS | Official Trailer | In Theaters November 22
DARK WATERS | Official Trailer | In Theaters November 22
I watched Dark Waters on DVD; it’s not currently streaming anywhere, but you can rent or buy it starting at $2.99.
💉 Hacksaw Ridge
Most war movies, even the wise and mature ones like Saving Private Ryan, are afflicted by a central contradiction: They show war to be hell, but nine times out of ten their protagonists’ problems are also solved with a gun or a bomb; violence begets violence.
Hacksaw Ridge is in a class all its own. Its hero, the deeply religious Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield) doesn’t carry a gun, and in fact refuses to touch one, even in basic training. He’s a battlefield medic in Okinawa, one of the most dangerous theaters of operations during World War II, and his continued survival seems in constant peril. There’s no way he will get out of this horror show alive, you think — it’s gripping to watch.
Although director Mel Gibson gets to indulge his bloodlust here as much as he would in Braveheart, he — and screenwriters Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight — seem to be deeply invested in Doss’ true story, not using him as a means to an end.
Hacksaw Ridge Official Trailer #1 (2016) Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer War Drama Movie HD
Hacksaw Ridge Official Trailer #1 (2016) Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer War Drama Movie HD
I watched Hacksaw Ridge on Blu-Ray; it’s not currently streaming anywhere, but you can rent or buy it starting at $3.99.
🎬 Hail, Caesar!
The first time I saw Hail, Caesar! I was put off by its shagginess; even for a Coen Brothers film, it feels frustratingly aimless at times, trying to weave a consistent theme from out of several Old Hollywood vignettes. It didn’t help that I had watched the deeply misleading first trailer (embedded below) a couple dozen times.
I don’t think the movie ever quite finds that theme, but I enjoyed it way more on this viewing, remembering enough of the plot that I could focus on the the exquisitely realized homages to classic movies. I love George Clooney‘s commitment to playing a Charlton Heston-like star who’s actually an easily swayed doof; I love the extended musical sequence of Channing Tatum channeling his inner Gene Kelly; and most of all, I love every single thing that Alden Ehrenreich does in this movie, particularly when he’s on screen with Ralph Fiennes.
As you might have noticed in the previous sentence, this movie is absolutely stacked with great actors, so much so that I haven’t even mentioned several of the biggest names on the marquee. I’m almost mad that Frances McDormand and Jonah Hill are airdropped in for only one inconsequential scene each. However, given the movie’s struggle to add up to a cohesive sum, maybe this very enjoyable movie is best appreciated as isolated scenes, anyway.
Hail, Caesar! - Official Trailer (HD)
Hail, Caesar! - Official Trailer (HD)
Hail, Caesar! is currently streaming on Netflix and DirecTV.
🔢 Every Movie I've Seen in 2020, Ranked
(new additions in bold)
  1. 12 Angry Men
  2. Knives Out
  3. Arrival
  4. Airplane!
  5. Hot Fuzz
  6. Groundhog Day
  7. All About Eve
  8. The Farewell
  9. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  10. What We Do in the Shadows
  11. Spotlight
  12. Booksmart
  13. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
  14. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  15. Your Name.
  16. North by Northwest
  17. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
  18. The Old Guard
  19. Thank You For Smoking
  20. Little Women
  21. Marriage Story
  22. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  23. La La Land
  24. Sunset Boulevard
  25. Ford v Ferrari
  26. A Fish Called Wanda
  27. Gremlins
  28. Apocalypse Now
  29. Hacksaw Ridge
  30. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  31. The Lunchbox
  32. Little Miss Sunshine
  33. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  34. Coming to America
  35. Shrek
  36. Dolemite Is My Name
  37. Good Will Hunting
  38. Palm Springs
  39. The Grapes of Wrath
  40. Fantasia 2000
  41. Kedi
  42. The Great Escape
  43. Annihilation
  44. Wordplay
  45. Boyhood
  46. 1917
  47. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
  48. Dark Waters
  49. Hail, Caesar!
  50. The Death of Stalin
  51. 50/50
  52. Enemy of the State
  53. Captain Phillips
  54. Uncut Gems
  55. Frost/Nixon
  56. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  57. Bad Education
  58. Godzilla
  59. Just Mercy
  60. Da 5 Bloods
  61. Guardians of the Galaxy
  62. My Fair Lady
  63. Gates of Heaven
  64. Emma.
  65. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
  66. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
  67. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
  68. Braveheart
  69. Bicycle Thieves
  70. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  71. Frankenstein
  72. Hugo
  73. All the Money in the World
  74. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  75. John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch
  76. Onward
  77. Pain and Glory
  78. Bambi
  79. The Great Dictator
  80. Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events
  81. Anastasia
  82. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  83. Animal House
  84. You’ve Got Mail
  85. The 39 Steps
  86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  87. Modern Romance
  88. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
  89. 3:10 to Yuma
  90. The Big Country
  91. Ghost
  92. The African Queen
  93. Greyhound
  94. Bamboozled
  95. Bullitt
  96. Dracula
  97. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
  98. Bride of Frankenstein
  99. The Descendants
  100. Joker
  101. Kingpin
  102. Bridesmaids
  103. The Great Gatsby
  104. 13 Assassins
  105. Creature From the Black Lagoon
  106. Kentucky Fried Movie
  107. Romancing the Stone
  108. Crocodile Dundee
  109. Gods of Egypt
  110. The Gentlemen
  111. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
  112. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  113. The Last Airbender
Did you enjoy this issue?
Eric Johnson

I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

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